Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Essentials of Mobile Location Intelligence

Revolutionary advances in mobile technology and web use have added enormously to the importance of location intelligence in sensible business planning, reports Christopher Backeberg...
Location intelligence is sometimes shortened to LI but we'll use the catchier abbreviation of LocInt. Call it what you will, it has become a topic of some hot discussion in the mobile industry.
Right now, not enough businesses fully understand the meaning of LocInt and how to use it most effectively, according to a number of spatial information providers. The growing sophistication of digitally creating, storing and sharing geographical data makes the current situation both more complicated and much more exciting.
We're on the brink of a new, expanded phase in LocInt. The combination of mobile location information, cloud computing, software as a service (SaaS) and so-called Web 2.0 practices is ushering in what Francisco Ortiz De Urbina of ESRI Australia calls "Location Intelligence 2.0".
Ventana Research believes LocInt will be one of the key technologies to enable business innovation, becoming essential to achieve new levels of growth through improvement in business processes. However, it won't happen without overcoming some difficulties. Mark Smith, Ventana's executive vice-president of research, says of a recent study by the company: "The research found viral use of consumer mapping technology like Google in business, but organisations are challenged in utilising it to deal with the volumes and frequency of data that need to be integrated."
Shankar Narayanan, CEO of Spime, believes LocInt is "the next big revolution expected in the mobile market." He is also aware of the challenges, stating: "We need basic map data of any geography with extensive layers of information (global, continental, country and even street level, and finally at the door number level of the target location) to achieve this. Further, information on POIs (points of interest) and any dynamic data such as traffic, weather, events and offers could be all labelled as location intelligence."
In short, it's time to prepare for the marriage of traditionally web-based LocInt and mobile location-based services (LBS).
So what is location intelligence?
In simple terms, LocInt is a technique for presenting geographical information in a graphic way, most often in the form of map layers. For example, different colours on a map may show the population density around a planned shopping centre, or the comparative return on investment by various stores in different locations.
The inclusion of LBS allows for the addition of new layers, such as the number of mobile users accessing a wi-fi hub, or even the number of mobile users in a given area at a given time who are opted in to a specific proximity marketing service.
Enterprises can gain crucial insights into the marketing environment by combining their sets of business data with geography-based information and, more recently, the specifically location-based information that mobile devices make possible. This collated information, labelled LocInt, gives businesses the opportunity to streamline their processes and customer relationships, which in turn can lead to improved business performance.
The sources of all this information include aerial maps, geographic information systems (GIS), consumer demographics and users' customer records. Spatial information companies that specialise in business-to-customer (B2C) applications provide businesses with the tools to map this information visually. The mapping apps can turn huge amounts of data into colour-coded visual representations that reveal trends and patterns at a glance.
A universe of users
According to Wikipedia, everyone's favourite source of quick, general information, LocInt is at the heart of commercial applications used in numerous sectors.
Communications & Telecommunications: For network planning and design, boundary identification, and identifying new customer markets.
Financial Services: To optimise branch locations and for market analysis, share of wallet and cross-sell activities, mergers and acquisitions, industry sector analysis, and risk management.
Government: For census updates, law enforcement crime analysis, emergency response, environmental and land management, electoral redistricting, tax jurisdiction assignment, and urban planning.
Healthcare: For site selection, market segmentation, network analysis, and growth assessments.
Hotels & Restaurants: For customer profile analysis, site selection, target marketing, and expansion planning.
Insurance: For address validation, underwriting and risk management, claims management, marketing and sales analysis, and market penetration studies.
Media: For target market identification, subscriber demographics, and media planning.
Real Estate: For site reports, comprehensive site analysis, retail modelling, and presentation-quality maps.
Retail: For site selection, maximising per-store sales, identifying under-performing stores, and market analysis.
Are you in sector not covered by these categories? If there isn't a LocInt app for you now, it's almost certain that there will be one soon.
Make room for LocInt 2.0
Location intelligence 2.0 isn't a new technology, it's the new approach to the use of location intelligence to keep up with the rapid evolution of the Internet and the mobile web.
Urbina at ESRI Australia explains: "This geography on the web or the geoweb is a rapidly evolving Web 2.0 market of innovative data and software applications, including location-based services, social software and even augmented reality, for both the web and mobile devices. Propelled by new location-aware smartphones, the geoweb is moving into the mainstream."
He adds: "The rise of social computing patterns and technology within the enterprise and out towards clients has given rise to the challenge of how to leverage your organisation's spatial information assets for a demanding end user with much greater expectations on usability, access and content."
Web 2.0 practices have paved the way for this evolution. Web 2.0 is also not a defined standard, it is a second-generation way of using the web.
By this loose definition, the early commercial Internet, or Web 1.0, consisted of the static, passive websites of the 1990s that couldn't offer user interaction or offer user-created content. Websites were basically no more than brochures viewed on a monitor.
Web 2.0 practises may make use of some comparatively older technology, such as contents management systems and frameworks for discussion forums or uploading photos to a website. Today, Web 2.0 finds expression in online social networks, wikis, YouTube and countless other interactive websites and blogs.
So LocInt 2.0 can be seen as the integration of the Web 2.0 approach and the location-awareness of smart mobile devices. Moreover, says Urbina: "The underpinning technologies are inexpensive, allow rapid deployments and are simple to use, but vitally, offer significant scope for the adoption and increasing usage of spatial information."
Finding the competitive edge
How do you stay ahead of the game in LocInt?
According to JIMAPCO, "Knowing your market is critical, and being able to see your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities gives you an edge never before available. By combining your data with other demographic and economic data sources, you can discern patterns, trends, strengths, weaknesses and opportunities to help you make better decisions."
Technology news writer Hannah Smalltree remarks that the best way to learn about a new place is to go there, but perhaps the second-best way is by using location intelligence. She says: "The tools and practices that make up location intelligence could be called the geographical version of business intelligence (BI)."
In its overview of LocInt, DMTI Spatial says: "At its simplest, location intelligence allows organisations to unlock business value by leveraging location content, ultimately making a measurable difference in your business performance."
DMTI tellingly observes that as much as 85% of a company's existing marketing data may already include references to location. The company adds: "It's no wonder that using location intelligence to leverage this latent data can have a significant impact on your bottom line."
The future of location intelligence
According to Steve Trammell, corporate alliance representative for ESRI, the biggest challenge in LocInt is education, not technology. He says: "We start talking about maps and people start thinking of a static document. We have to show them an interactive map - a map you click on which brings up information like customer locations, sales volume, or even something as mundane as the weather."
Trammel believes BI platform integration will help LocInt gain traction by bringing its potential value into perspective. He says the LocInt market will also be driven by the availability of more quality data sources than ever before and new databases of rich demographic information and other location-specific details.
Jim Stone, founder of GeoVue, educates companies about the use of LocInt to solve classic retail business problems. He comments: "The simplest way to think of location intelligence is a combination of software, content and services."
DMTI neatly spells out the gains that a company can make by using good location intelligence. From its experience with customers, DMTI has found that LocInt can increase revenue, improve customer service, decrease risk, enhance compliance and optimise capital investments. Those look like pretty compelling inducements.


  1. Great write up! Jessica Krokowski has been writing a lot recently on how SaaS applications are helping companies do more with LocInt. Her most recent blog post at Pitney Bowes Business Insight discussed the importance of Location Data Quality. If interested in this topic, http://li.pbbiblogs.com/2010/09/21/location-data-quality/

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